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Tuesday, August 11, 2020  

Death and DyingPublished 4/16/2003

Death and Dying...
Commentary by Vicki Jenkins


He is tall and slender and has a studious look about him. His eyes possess that inviting, friendly look and his mouth curls up ever so slightly when he smiles. He is a doctor that could very easily blend into the characters of the TV show, E.R. The ones that leave the viewer, wondering, who is that masked man sporting those scrubs? His appearance is, in a sense, somewhere between Dr. John Carter, (his hair neatly combed but a few strands sticking up in the back) and Dr. Doug Ross, (having the handsome, rugged look that causes women to fall into a trance when looking into his big brown eyes). He is an orthopedic surgeon and I am his medical assistant.

I peeked through the tiny window of the reception area. "Oh boy, another Monday," I said in a low voice, talking to myself, looking at the variety of patients that dotted the waiting room. Yes, variety was right. The lobby was lined with individuals of different shapes and sizes. Scattered mumbles of moans and groans could be heard, ever so slightly, yet, coming through loud and clear. Each patient sat in pure agony as they sported multicolored casts, arm slings, and knee immobilizers. My day was about to begin.

I walked to my desk, looking over the schedule one last time. The patients’ charts began to fill the ledge, as the doctor arrived, his usual cheery self. "Good morning doctor," I said. "Good morning, are we going to make it through the day?" he asked with a smile. "Sure, we’ll make it," I answered back, setting his cup of coffee on the ledge. Being his assistant I was the one that made sure he had his caffeine fix for the morning. He grabbed his lab coat, straightened his collar, and put his Dictaphone in his side pocket.

Now, he was ready to see the patients.

Being the doctor’s assistant, I was his sidekick. I followed his every step. My co-workers had even come up with a song for the two of us, Me and My Shadow. Along with the doctor, I was the one that heard all of the complaints. Oh, the words that are spoken to a doctor, strictly confidential…. but to be a fly on the wall, hear everything, and then fly away! The doctor would see about forty patients today.

Actually, I find it kind of ironic that I work for a doctor, such as an orthopaedic. Ever since I was a little girl, I was under the impression that the feet had to be one of the most disgusting parts of the body. I mean, lets face it, who wants to look at feet all day, and examine all of those corns…. and Hallux Valgus? (Fancy word for bunions). Just the thought was giving me flashbacks, taking me back to the tender age of five. Ever so often, that pondering question would come back to haunt me; When I ran barefooted across Mrs. Armstrong’s yard, just ‘WHAT’ was it that squashed between my toes? And all of those stickers! Ouch! The thought was haunting! Yet, I had captured good memories too; Like going barefooted and feeling the blades of grass tickle at my feet. I remember running through the water sprinkler with all of my clothes on, minus my socks and shoes! Okay, I suppose the good memories DID outweigh the bad. But, "WHAT WAS THAT…"

At times, the doctor’s conversations amused me. I never knew what was going to come out of the doctor’s mouth. Warning: The surgeon general has found that inserting foot into mouth can be hazardous to your health!

When it was time for me to assist in the removal of the surgical pins, it never failed that the patient would feel a little faint. This was my cue to have a cold, wet washcloth close by, and sometimes, hold the patient’s hand, comforting them. The patient would tell the doctor that they didn’t want to watch, closing their eyes. The patient would relax just enough for the doctor to remove the pins. "Oh, are you finished already?" they would ask, afterwards, sitting up tall and and straight, acting like the bravest person in the world. The doctor would then rub his eyes and ask, "Can I open my eyes yet?" I’ll have to admit, the doctor was a funny guy.

"Hey, doc, is this going to hurt?" the patient would ask, as we prepared for the Steroid injection.

"Is your insurance PPO or HMO?’ the doctor would ask.

"HMO" the patient would answer.

"Then, yes, this will hurt." the doctor would answer with a sheepish grin.

We saw a lot of different types of patients. Most of them were legitimate sports injuries. Sports injuries were a year round occurrence. Some injuries were falls, and some injuries were, well, just down right clumsiness. Okay, so it’s true, some people can’t walk and chew gum at the same time!

There were also the HMO patients. The HMO patients were the ones that had been given a list of Specialists that they were allowed to see. They were among the chosen few whom were allowed to choose from the ‘chosen few’ of Physicians. (The Physicians that were listed in the handy dandy Referral Handbook of Physicians; Page 35, bottom right hand corner, right column, small print).

Then there were the patients that stood out from all the rest. Kind of like outstanding in their field, but not sure what kind of field it was. These were the patients that were able to twist and turn their bodies, like a piece of clay, molding it every which way. It never failed that the patient would be sitting on the examining table, lift their arm up, letting it dangle to their side, tilt their head back, and lift one leg in the air, exclaiming, "Hey, doc, it hurts when I do this." The doctor would cross his arms, put one hand on his chin, give them that puzzled look, as his eyebrows formed into a ‘V’ shape. He was now giving them the impression of being in deep thought, trying to figure out what the problem was (to plant that rose bush or not to plant that rose bush). Clearing his throat, he would speak with authority and sternness and say,

"Well, don’t do that." Then, he would smile. It was then that the patient would think that the doctor was Einstein himself. The patient would wear a big smile and shout "Oh, okay. Well, thanks doc, I feel much better now," as their pretzel shaped body would suddenly unwind itself. They had suddenly been released from their tangled web.

Perhaps the healing process came to some of the patients when they stepped through the door of the examining room. The same patient that had been thumbing through the magazine, Runner, and Muscle, was the same one that had moaned and groaned earlier, complaining about the size of their…uh…. foot, was the same patient that was miraculously cured from all pain!

At first, I was under the impression that the doctor was some kind of miracle worker that had taken on a daytime job only to humble his employees. There seemed to be a pattern to it all, as the doctor and I would watch the patient snivel from under the examining table. The doctor would ask," And what seems to be your problem?" Through biting of fingernails and clenching of teeth, the patient would spit out the words, "Uh…I don’t seem to be having any pain right now." Sweat would trickle down their body as they would stick their swollen, bare foot, (that was the size of a 15EE shoe in mid air) showing the doctor. The doctor would start poking around, touching in-between toes, and we would see the patient squirm. The many different expressions that can be made by the human face when in pain are simply indescribable!

From Morton’s Neuroma to Planter Fasciitis and all of the toe jam in-between, the doc sees it all. He ends his visits with "See me in a month and have a nice day."

I love my job as a medical assistant and it gives me a feeling of comfort. It kind of gives a whole new meaning to, ‘footnotes for the sole’ doesn’t it? Perhaps, it is my daily dose of ‘footnotes for my soul.’

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